Moulded plaster cast
Sculpture Height: 10 inches (25 cm)
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This is a plaster cast by Charles Despiau after the Roman sculpture known as ‘The Belvedere Torso’. The celebrated marble torso is a fragment of a statue found in Rome at the end of the 15th century.
It has always been the piece of ancient sculpture most admired by artists right down to the present day. The identity of the figure has been the subject of various interpretations through the centuries. The most favoured hypothesis presently identities it as the Greek hero Ajax in the act of contemplating suicide. The story is told how, during the Trojan Wars, Ajax is enraged when Achilles’ armour is awarded to Odysseus and not himself, and kills himself. The sculpture dates from the 1st century B.C. and is signed by the Athenian sculptor Apollonios, an artist of the neo-Attic school.
Charles Despiau was born on November 4, 1874 in Mont-de-Marsan. His father and grandfather were highly respected local master plasterers there. A student at the Lycée Victor DuruY in Mont-de-Marsan, he is quickly noticed by his drawing teacher, Louis Morin , who will help him get a scholarship from the Department of Landes in order to be able to settle in Paris from 1891 and to enter the National School of Decorative Arts in 1892 where his professor was the sculptor Hector Lemaire.
On March 5, 1895, he joined the School of Fine Arts and more particularly the studio of the sculptor Louis-Ernest Barrias who will teach him the mysteries of direct stone carving.
Charles Despiau also made the acquaintance during this period of the pretty Marie Rudel of which he becomes madly and passionately in love and who will be the first of his models. She will also inspire his first portraits and his first sculptures imbued with modernity.
Between 1898 and 1900, Charles Despiau exhibited at the Salon des Artistes French.
Despiau occupied a room on boulevard Montparnasse and to relax he preferred the terrace of the Dôme or the Deux Magots to the atmosphere of the living room. In 1900 one of the plaster versions of his companion and model Mademoiselle Marie Rudel was exhibited at the Salon. Certainly critics and visitors notice his great skills in the Parisian Salon but Charles Despiau will judge the Salon of French Artists progressively unsuitable, compared to his own artistic goals.
He therefore had to flee society life and bowing as quickly as possible incessant. Certainly lacking a bit of practice in the material, he preferred to highlight his qualities as a sculptor. However, while the latter is the subject of good reviews within the Parisian Salons themselves, orders do not follow unfortunately.
He had his studio on Boulevard des Batignolles above a hall of dance. The years 1900 – 1901 were financially very difficult for the young relationship that he formed with Marie Rudel because when he left school of Fine Arts he then lost his scholarship which had been granted to him by the Department of Landes and it is therefore necessary to find other means of subsistence despite the small pension sent to him regularly by his poor mother.
In 1904 he became a “Societor” of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts where he presents his latest work, a bust of a young girl titled “The Little Girls from the Landes”. Then in June 30, 1904 the announcement of his marriage in Paris to one of the most beautiful models that his heart had chosen, his companion and muse, Marie Rudel. For the sake of economy Charles Despiau even used the reverse side of this invitation to make some drawings and sketches.
From 1906, he set up his studio in a working-class neighbourhood a stone’s throw from Parc Montsouris at 2, rue d’Arcueil, Villa Corot. It was almost as if they were in the countryside because the neighbourhood housed dogs, cats, hens and roosters.
In 1923, Despiau was a founding member of the Salon des Tuileries with the sculptors Maillol, Bourdelle and Wlerick. Despiau gets new recognition from critics and discerning collectors. That same year, “Eve” exhibited at the Paris Salon brought him praise and attention. After the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925, he became known in international art circles and the consecration came in 1927 with the first exhibition in New York at the Joseph Brummer gallery where everything is sold. It is then the glory, the orders flow, the American press is complimentary and enthusiastic. Franck Crowninshield, owner of Vanity Fair magazine, becomes his most important collector in America.
Despiau was a French sculptor who worked as Rodin’s assistant. He attended first the École des Arts Décoratifs and later the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He began exhibiting at the Salon des Artistes Français, from 1898 to 1900; then at the less academic Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, where he showed from 1901 to 1921, and finally to the Salon des Tuileries, where he exhibited from 1923 to 1944.
Rodin hired him as an assistant in 1907. Despiau worked with Rodin, as well as doing his own sculpture, until 1914, when he was drafted for service in the camouflage unit in World War I. Returning to sculpture after the war, his success was established with his one-man show at the Brummer Gallery in New York in late 1927. He died in Paris in 1946. Despiau was not a prolific sculptor, preferring to work for as long as it took to realize his vision. There are several surviving plaster statues which repeat a model with only slight variations. He is buried in the Mont-de-Marsan cemetery. He remains one of the major sculptors if not the greatest of between the wars but also of 20th century sculptures in France.
His works, mostly portraits and nudes exemplifying a calm classicism, are in the collections of over thirty museums in France and over 100 museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum of Modern Art in New York owns the bronze Assia, perhaps his best-known work. The largest collection is in his native Mont-de-Marsan, in a museum he shares with Robert Wlérick, established in the Donjon Lacataye. Despiau produced a total of 150 sculptures and 1,000 drawings over a fifty-year career.